Just a little more than a month into his presidency, Trump clearly wanted to use his first speech to Congress to reset a chaotic start to his administration.
Gone was the dark tone that marked his inaugural address, replaced by optimism and pleas for bipartisan support. Standing before lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and military leaders, the famously unrestrained politician was softer, sober and verged on diplomatic.
“I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart,” he said, in the opening of his hour-long speech.
But while his prime-time address to Congress and the nation wrapped his nationalistic politics in prose that was more presidential, it is unlikely to overcome the deep divisions created by his first few weeks in office.
For a candidate who sold himself as a master dealmaker, Trump has shown little inclination to get deeply involved with the kind of nitty gritty negotiating that defines the legislative process.
That’s left the Capitol reeling.
Republicans have united control for the first time in decades but no agreement over the specifics of long-promised plans to repeal “Obamacare” and revamp the tax code. The federal civil service is in not-so-subtle revolt. And weeks of protests and raucous town halls are putting fresh political pressure on lawmakers from both parties to resist his agenda.
The stakes are high not only in terms of policy but politics: If the GOP is unable to make good on years of election promises, they could enter the midterm elections in a far weaker position than expected.
Trump, meanwhile, faces record low approval ratings — just 44 percent of Americans approve of his job performance, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.
He’s nearing the end of big achievements he can enact by executive order, forcing him to rely on Congress to turn the bold promises of his campaign into actual achievements
Trump needed to use his prime-time address to show he could steady his flailing White House and focus on the difficult work required to pass his legislative agenda.
Still, he arrived at the Capitol in a blaze of accusations, enraging his opponents before he even entered the building.
In the 24 hours before his address, he blamed former President Barack Obama for town hall protests and security leaks, called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “incompetent” and said his generals, not the commander in chief, were responsible for a military raid in Yemen that killed a Navy SEAL.
In his speech, he called on Washington to “work past the differences of party.”
The candidate who won the White House by taking a hard-line stance on immigration, seemed to express openness to a bipartisan immigration bill.
The president whose administration spent much of its first weeks in office battling with the media, intelligence community, federal judiciary and even Hollywood celebrities asked for an end to “trivial fights.”
And after questioning the authenticity of a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers, he condemned the flood of anti-Semitic attacks and other racially motivated crimes.
For House GOP leaders, Trump came tantalizingly close to backing their plan to overhaul the tax code by imposing a new tax on imports while exempting exports. He appeared to lend support to the House Republican leaders’ plan for Obamacare, by embracing “tax credits” and health savings accounts.
But on other issues, Trump offered barely a blueprint for his initiatives.
He repeated his campaign pledge to make a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, adding no new details to a proposal that’s sure to face fierce resistance from budget hawks. Big promises to make childcare more affordable, ensure paid family leave, invest in women’s health and a major education bill were mentioned merely in passing.
There was no discussion of how his administration would fund any of the new — and expensive — programs, putting him in direct conflict with a Republican Party that’s long focused on cutting the deficit.
On foreign policy, he promised a massive expansion in military spending, even as he made no mention of Iraq or Afghanistan, where American troops are still stationed. And he avoided commenting on U.S.-Russia relations, an area where he’s sparked major controversy even within his own party, making only a nebulous reference to an America “willing to find new friends.”
“We will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American greatness began,” Trump said at the conclusion of his speech. “I am asking all citizens to embrace this renewal of the American spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big and bold and daring things for our country.”
Story by The Associated Press